SHARING EXPERIENCES OF DEVELOPING COHOUSING

On Saturday March 14 Cohousing Woodside organised a networking and social event for all cohousing groups in London.  It was a buzzy forum for exchange of information and ideas.

From North London, representatives of the Older Women’s Cohousing group (OWCH), Hackney Cohousing Project, LoCo (London Countryside Cohousing Group) and Cohousing Woodside attended, along with the only one based in South London, Featherstone Cohousing.   A total of around 40 people, including three university researchers, each pursuing different aspects of the cohousing process.   All the groups are still in the formation stage but at different points of the journey – OWCH is the furthest on, with construction having started;   Cohousing Woodside and Featherstone have secured planning permission, and the others are still in the planning phases.

Photography by Jan Potter
Photography by Jan Potter

This was the first time all the groups had come together like this and there was a lively interest in exploring key facts on each others’ progress so far.  Each group gave a short account of development milestones reached and successes and challenges encountered.  All had a tale to tell about how demanding of time and energy it is to set up a cohousing community with Loco and OWCH having managed best to share out the load.   As both have been working away for 12 and 16 years respectively, this is not surprising – it takes time for new members of a group to step up.  Discussion ranged over related areas such as building community and trust and taking decisions consensually in large groups.  Great ideas like ‘role playing’ exercises and ‘ever after’ task groups were shared.  All are struggling with issues like affordability, market pressures or tenure mix.  Hackney has a very interesting Council-enabled shared ownership model.

Loco is a now successfully self-developing and self-financing, having quit its brief partnership with Hanover; the small Hackney group is working with Peabody, and OWCH, Featherstone and Cohousing Woodside are all working with Hanover.  Cohousing Woodside is the only group sharing a site with a larger Hanover development and therefore struggling for recognition of the nature of cohousing, while the others have dedicated sites. The difficulties of reconciling the cohousing ethos with an organisational culture unused to equal relationships with end-users came out strongly in discussion.

It is clear that those assembled enjoyed the exchange and appreciated the opportunity to network with other cohousers. Another such get together before too long would be very useful and might form a basis for a ‘London Cohousing Network’.

CAPITAL DIARY – Maria Brenton

There is an encouraging flurry of activity on Cohousing in London at the moment.  March 14th will see a ‘get-together’ of the London cohousing groups for an informal exchange of their experiences so far, initiated by Cohousing Woodside’s Group Development taskgroup. See a forthcoming blog for a report of this event.

An ‘Introduction to Cohousing Ideas and People’ workshop will be held at Pollard, Thomas Edwards architects’ practice in Islington on the evening of March 25.   This is for interested individuals in London who are new to cohousing.   It will feature talks on: ‘Intentional Communities – what is Cohousing? (Jo Gooding, UKCN); ‘Building a Cohousing Group’ (Maria Brenton, UKCN); ‘Money and Sites’ (Toby Lloyd, Hackney Group); ‘Collaborative Design’ (Patrick Devlin, PTEa) and ‘What to expect from your builder’ (Steve Drury).  Representatives of existing groups active in the capital will be available to talk to those who come. Write to tim.metcalfe@ptea.co.uk for further details.

OWCH workshop 2On March 26, cohousing will be included in ‘Public Wisdom’, a conference at Caxton Hall, around ageing, creativity and the public realm.  This is funded by the Baring Foundation and will feature the eminent Professor Richard Sennett whose work as a sociologist has focussed on social ties in cities and the effects of urban living on individuals in the modern world. The programme also features Patrick Devlin, PTEa’s architect for the OWCH scheme in Barnet. He will speak about the participative process he developed with the Older Women’s Cohousing group, along with Rachel Douglas, an OWCH member, who will speak on the OWCH women’s experience of being involved in designing their own building.

New Ground Cohousing

On February 26, the OWCH (Older Women’s Cohousing) project took its first step towards becoming ‘New Ground Cohousing’ in High Barnet. Based on the site of an old school two minutes from the town centre, the project will see a start to drainage system and foundations now that the old school buildings have finally been demolished.

To mark this event, Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and also MP for Chipping Barnet, womanfully ignored tight skirt and high heels to climb onto a digger for the press to take photographs and marked the occasion with a short speech celebrating the achievement of the OWCH group in getting this far.

photo by Diana Deeks-Plummer
photo by Diana Deeks-Plummer

Hanover did the group proud and organised the whole event, followed by a splendid lunch in an adjacent church hall. 23 OWCH members listened to Hanover’s new executive director of development, Tracy Lavers, welcome this ‘landmark event’ and referencing the HAPPI Report (Housing Our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation) which, she went on to say,

“championed the idea of interdependence rather than independence, self-supporting communities as an alternative to the more traditional forms of retirement housing and housing that positively reflects the hopes and desires we all have for our later lives.

The New Ground housing scheme is the epitome of this and is a really interesting, innovative and exciting project. Hanover is delighted to play an integral role in this.

Hanover is an organisation committed to listening to its residents and meeting their needs. The cohousing approach offers us a unique opportunity to learn through co-creation, so that we’re hearing and learning from future residents, right from the start of the project, in a way that really fosters increased innovation”.

OWCH members will move in in February 2016. Their ‘Relocation’ task group is working on the transition and the next members’ workshop is on Decluttering.